I’d have never thought I could become a potential candidate for digital addiction. Admittedly I’d been an early adopter of any tools that could help me manage my work and personal life more efficiently: think schedule, tasks, lists, contacts, files, music, photos etc., all aggregated in one place yet accessible from multiple synchronised devices. But I had for a long time resisted embracing social media until I could no longer postpone setting a business page on Facebook. And despite being quite attuned to the risks associated with spending too much time online, I realised how hard it was to resist temptation. Fortunately, I quickly reacted and took some measures that prevented me from developing a digital addiction. I hope these measures can help you too. Here they are.
#1 | REFLECT ON WHAT YOUR DIGITAL ADDICTION IS COSTING YOU
Maybe it takes you forever to complete your tasks and your workdays stretch indefinitely in the office, taking time away from your family. Maybe you forget about dinner time and end up compromising on your aim of having a balanced and healthy diet. Maybe, and even though you make time to read or play with your children, you are never really in the moment, they feel it and resent you, and start to play up.
In my case, the wake-up call came from the realisation I was feeling easily mentally drained. Envisioning how my life would be transformed once I’d have quit my digital addiction gave me the motivation to do something about it.
#2 | TURN OFF NOTIFICATIONS
Do you feel compelled to check your phone or emails as soon as you see or hear a notification? The solution is simple: turn off the notifications from your emails, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and the likes so that you can stay focused on the task at hands. Don’t create a false sense of urgency, a lot of things can wait. Most people in my network know that they’ll have to call me if they need to reach me urgently.
#3 | HAVE A LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PHONE
If turning notifications off is not enough and you still feel the urge to reach out to your phone to check whether you’ve received a message, consider putting your phone far away so that you’ll have to get up to access it. The more difficult you make the task, the less likely you are to do it. I practice this strategy whenever I need to complete a task I tend to procrastinate on. My son does the same when he does his homework and allows himself 5-minute digital breaks as a reward.
#4 | SET TIME LIMITS AND PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES
Reaching out for your phone first thing in the morning, if you get easily carried away like we most do, is the best way to derail your day even before getting up. It may be a good idea to have a proper alarm clock to wake you up instead of your phone.
Similarly stop using any electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime. Otherwise you’re likely to be over-stimulated and will have trouble to find sleep.
Dedicate timeslots to check your emails and be on social media, maybe 3 or 4 daily, and close the applications down the rest of the time. Your productivity at work will skyrocket.
Agree with the rest of your family the places where the phone can’t be used. In our family, electronic devices are not accepted at the dining table whether at home or restaurants, in the bedroom and in the car unless it is to listen to music.
#5 | KEEP YOUR HANDS BUSY
Engage in an activity that will take both your hands. A lady picked knitting to overcome her digital addiction. Salvation for me came in the form of Sudoku books. What could it be for you?
#6 | UNPLUG
Go through an entire day without computer, phone, tablet, gaming devices – Play Station, Wii, X Box etc. Ah and make it without TV either.
We do practise this strategy in our family the first Sunday of every month. I must confess that the idea of being deprived of our electronic devices and gadgets for a day makes us a bit cranky at first in the morning. And it does require a bit of planning ahead.
But we’ve learned to appreciate the freedom and the time it gives us to enjoy each other’s company, undistracted, talking and doing more as a family. It leaves us much more relaxed and fulfilled at the end of the day! Try it and find out for yourself!
#7 | PURGE
The less you own, the less you’ll be tempted to wander off aimlessly. So go ahead and:
- Remove phone applications you feel compelled to check often. My husband, who is an avid reader of news, was finding himself refreshing his news apps too often. He decided to remove them from his phone and to check the news twice a day through their respective website. His productivity increased drastically so he proceeded to remove Facebook and LinkedIn apps too. Next on his list: YouTube!
- Unfriend and unfollow people who don’t bring any joy in your life, who spread out negativity and post offensive comments that go against your values.
- Unsubscribe from newsletters you were added onto without your permission and have no interest, or you no longer read.
You’ll stop wasting your time on the unimportant so that you can focus instead on the meaningful.
Because that’s all what fighting digital addiction is about in the end, right? Living a more meaningful life. We all need once in a while to disconnect so that we can reconnect and refocus. Check my time management coaching programme if you need help to get back in control of your time and learn how to deal with time wasters.
This blog post was first published in Connected Women magazine.